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Let empathy lift your web store: The funeral example

Can you imagine what your typical customer are going through and needs at the point of their life when they show up at the doorstep of your web store? That’s what e-commerce empathy is about. “In our business we must be very empathic. We do it in different ways,” says Jakob Nordström, founder of the online funeral service Lavendla.

Empathy in business is all about having a rich understanding of the humans who are most likely to buy from you.

To get you thinking about this, try to put yourself in the shoes of your most typical customer for a minute while answering these questions. Can you connect to what she – or he – is going through?

  • What has happened in her life that prompted her to come to you?
  • What is her life like at this point?
  • What does she need? Emotionally, intellectually and solution-wise.
  • What does she want to experience as she visits your online and offline store?
  • What does she not want to experience?

So, how is tapping into your empathy for customers helpful as you build and grow your web store?

 

The power of empathy in business

IDEO is one of the world’s leading organisations that helps companies innovate solutions that their customers love. They use empathy as a key step in what they call “human-centred design”. If you can reach a deep level of empathy, you’ll develop your ability to come up with ideas for products, product variations, product improvements, product presentations, product marketing and so on. Potential improvements to the customer experience will suddenly become much more obvious, giving you a clear advantage in your e-commerce business. And you will sell more.

You just need to connect the dots to your customers’ hearts.

 

Connecting the dots to your customers’ hearts

Laura Ellis, who helps companies cultivate empathy, shares an illuminating story in her article Why your business needs more empathy. She talks about a design store in Perth, Australia, which has survived decades in business while neighbouring stores have closed their doors every 1-2 years. How has this design shop managed to stay in business?

“The owner was an expert in figuring why the customer was in the store, and who the person was buying for — themselves or someone else,” she writes. “He took huge amounts of time and effort to understand the problem being solved. ‘You’re looking for a gift for your girlfriend? Tell me about her.’ Then he’d go on to ask many more questions, putting himself in the mind of the girlfriend, and the guy buying the gift. When he understood the motivations of the customers, he was able to connect the dots to what they needed.”

Connecting those dots is also what entrepreneur Jakob Nordström is doing as an e-commerce entrepreneur. He used to sell rangefinders for golf players online, but after a couple of years he got tired of competing on price, so he started looking for a sector where buying decisions are taken on factors other than price.

That’s what made him interested in the burial sector.

And so far it’s going well for him.

The funeral business example of empathy

In 2017, after three years of operation, the online burial business Lavendla (www.lavenda.com) made almost 20 million SEK (about 2 million Euros) in revenue, up from 8 million SEK the year before that.

Jakob Nordström expects his business to grow rapidly in the years ahead, and investors clearly have faith in him, having recently granted additional capital investments of 23 million SEK. Considering the size of this market – 90,000 people dying in Sweden every year leading to a 2.5 billion SEK (about 2 billion Euro) funeral market – the potential is pretty good.

The biggest challenge: The mental barriers and traditions in the minds of relatives when it comes to arranging funerals. Needless to say, buying funeral arrangements online is different than shopping for a pair of new shoes or a new iPhone, not only emotionally but also practically, because of the complexity involved.

Market dominator Fonus has about 30 percent of the market share, reaping the benefits of being a well established, recognisable brand with local offices spread all over the country.

But Jakob Nordström is committed to becoming the first choice:

“Our goal is to be the market leader by 2025,” he says.

The strategy?

It’s all wrapped up in the mission of his business: to make the difficult easier.

“We aim to make the difficult easier for our customers, and empathy is one of the cornerstones in that. The only way to grow is to listen to and understand the needs of the customers,” says Jakob.

 

How Lavendla thinks about empathy

Before getting into a few examples of how Lavendla integrates empathy into its business – online and offline –  it’s useful to know a little bit about Jakob Nordström’s mindset when it comes to the experience of customers preparing for the funeral of their mom, dad, child or someone else very close.

“Some people say ‘Can you really do this online?’ But it turns out that using the internet for your needs is a lifestyle. If you are used to looking online for a summer house, a flight ticket or groceries, you will use that behaviour for funerals as well. It’s just a matter of transition time before more people get used to it.”

“Online, questions can be answered much faster and more precisely, 24/7. You can get a better overview, and you feel like you are more in control. We believe people are better able to reflect, consider and make decisions from the comfort of their sofas at home than in a time-limited meeting at a traditional funeral office.”

And customers are happy. Lavendla gets 9 out of 10 in customer review ratings on Trustpilot.

 

A few examples of how Lavendla integrates empathy

Education – for empowerment

Arranging a funeral is something you’ll probably do just once or twice in your life. That lack of experience and knowledge places you in a vulnerable position when it comes to making decisions. It’s easy to feel lost or confused. Jakob Nordström is aware of that – and makes an effort to empower customers in this unchartered territory.

“When you walk into a traditional funeral office you can easily feel inferior, like someone else is in control. We want to turn that around, making our customers feel like they are the certified experts.”

Online, Lavendla provides information about different types of funerals and what to consider and do before, during and after the funeral.

Transparency – for cost control

“One frustrating element for many people visiting traditional funeral offices is the lack of predictability when it comes to costs. It sometimes ends up costing much more than you thought at the beginning. That doesn’t happen with us. Here you 

see exactly what it will cost – even before contacting us”.

You place the items of your choice in your online cart, which calculates the sum for you.  

 

 

Customisations – for decisions without shame

As a customer, you don’t want to feel pushed in a certain direction when it comes to all the choices you face. With Lavendla you can pick and choose any coffin, headstone, flowers, refreshments and music – without any guilt or shame about what 

kind of decisions you make. For example, if you’re on a tight budget and go for cheap options, there is nobody to judge you or make you feel like you should spend more.

This customisation also extends offline when having conversations with your personal advisor.

“We have customers who want a flag on the coffin, or flowers shaped as a football, or hard rock music being played, or to have the ceremony end up in a local pub. On other occasions the customisation is about the size of the ceremony. We have had funerals with up to 1,000 people, and when that happens, we assign an advisor who has that kind of experience,” explains Jakob.

“99 percent of all customers make some changes at some point during the weeks before the funeral, which is the reason we don’t have people pay on the website. We just have the shopping cart that calculates the total price.”

 

Personal voice – for trust

There’s nothing fancy about the look of Lavendla’s web presence. Quite the opposite, actually:

As you see, the website is far from being cool, stylish or flashy. And there’s a reason for that. When people need to plan for a funeral there is one important thing they look for:

 

Trust.

“Being personal is the key parameter for building trust in this kind of business. That’s the number one need of funeral customers,” says Jakob.

“We immediately want to come across as approachable and personal. We want our website to be a friendly funeral ‘office’ online. We share personal information about each one of our advisors, showing who they are and their phone numbers and email addresses. The advisor will later assist the customer from start to finish, which usually takes about three weeks.”

Because Lavendla is an online company, without local offices to visit, Jakob is very aware of the importance to connect emotionally when people phone up, and be extra sensitive to the emotional state of the person calling:

“If customers are in a low place when they call, we try to be more low key, but when someone is having a great day and sounds cheerful, we go along with that. We want to meet them wherever they are. Internally we often talk about this, the importance of meeting them on their level,” he says.

Localisation.

While being personal is the number one parameter for winning over a funeral customer, being local is the second.

You’d think that would be a huge problem for Lavendla, since the business only has one office to cut administration costs. But they have solved the online challenge of staying locally relevant in several ways.

The advisor from the office brings in experienced, local sub-contractors whenever possible – which it usually is – to meet the customer at the funeral venue and take care of everything from that point.

In addition to that, Lavendla has put a great deal of effort into localising the online experience. For example, if you search for “begravning Göteborg” (funeral Gothenburg), you end up on a page showing testimonials from people local to that area – truly meeting that emotional need:

According to Jakob, Lavendla now gets more online organic traffic than Fonus, the market dominator.